Staying Behind The Wheel As You Age May Help You Stay Sharp

Giving up driving when you get older can have serious health outcomes.

Whether you're 16 or 66, driving a car gives one a strong sense of independence. It lets you socialize, stay connected with the world and prevents isolation. As we age, some of us will be forced into driving cessation, due to a deterioration in vision or any number of reasons. But now researchers say not getting into the driver's seat can cause adverse effects.

A team led by Columbia University researchers analyzed the findings of 16 studies of drivers over 55 and driving cessation. They looked at the outcomes of no longer driving and found declines in health, in addition to lower cognitive function, among those no longer driving.

"Driving cessation in older adults appears to contribute to a variety of health problems, particularly depression," the authors concluded in the study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 

A microanalysis of five studies in particular found that giving up driving nearly doubled the risk of depression symptoms. Lower cognitive abilities were also an outcome.

"The perceived loss of control that accompanies driving cessation may partly explain the association between driving cessation and greater depressive symptoms," the authors wrote.

Indeed, many older adults are forced to stop driving due to declines in health, such as changes in vision, the effects of certain medications or other physical issues. But some seniors also have to give up driving due to lower incomes, unemployment and even family intervention. The authors note that the study has limitations, saying that it's possible that depressive symptoms could be a result of declining health or some other factor. 

The researchers stress the importance of older adults who no longer drive finding other avenues that ensure they aren't socially isolated.

Safety on the road is a top concern and some groups have developed ways for older adults to get around when they can't drive to ensure they don't lose their quality of life. Last year we wrote about the Independent Transportation Network, a service which offers a ride service for people over 60, often at a rate lower than local taxis. There are also driving classes geared towards seniors to make sure they're not only driving safe, but feeling confident. 

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